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Freedom & Travel: A Liberating Reinvention Story

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For the Year of the Boomer -- 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 -- here is another installment in my survey of 50 Boomers across 10 career categories who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.

Over a century ago, a Parisian lawyer named Paul Gauguin chucked everything in the name of freedom and moved to Tahiti to become an artist. I don't know if Arnie Cogan is also an artist (he does list himself as a photographer...) but he is definitely a Boomer whose reinvention expresses the same quest for freedom. For many in our generation, like Arnie, freedom and a flexible lifestyle, plus the allure of free travel, can be a powerful antidote to a life spent chasing a corporate carrot.

Many of us are trying to figure out how to gracefully step off the corporate treadmill before we get unceremoniously tossed off it. If we're concerned that we may become the victim of downsizing, Arnie's story might serve as an inspiration.

When we think of "retirement," many of us dream of "travel" as the number one answer to the question: "What will you do?" Arnie is a Boomer who is having his cake and eating it too. He figured out how to keep working, receive benefits, and travel the world -- for free. Arnie works for Southwest Airlines, a job that is quite a turnaround from his previous corporate experience as the VP for a graphic arts supply company.

In his mid 50s, Cogan ditched his $300,000/year job to take a $20,000 starting salary as a flight attendant for Southwest. Arnie had a house in Arizona that he had always planned on moving to eventually, so his strategy was to find a graceful way of making this transition, and getting out of the 60-hour weekly grind that was progressively wearing him down. A decade later, Arnie now works as an in-flight supervisor for Southwest at its Phoenix airport offices. Profiled in the Wall Street Journal, Arnie was positive about the value of his big change: "It's been the best job that I've ever had." As a flight attendant he worked 30 hours a week on average, but in his supervisor role he works a more conventional 40 hours a week.

Quality of life is something that seems to be increasingly preoccupying Boomers who are approaching retirement. If we can't simply kick back as our parents and grandparents may have been able to do, perhaps sacrificing the material things, simplifying our lives and doing some positive downsizing of our own may not be such a bad thing.

Freedom. It keeps coming back to that idea. If we were the generation that grew up idolizing Jack Kerouac and the freedom of the Beat generation to just pick up and go, perhaps now is our time, like Arnie, to surrender our attachments, hit the road and live a little. We certainly can't take it with us, and with our growing wisdom, we can now appreciate how important it is to program our lives so that we can enjoy every day.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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